Wed, May 18, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Conference on democracy called off at eleventh hour


China has abruptly called off an international conference on human rights and democracy this week, apparently because it was too close to the June 4 anniversary of Beijing's 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations, a participant said yesterday.

The three-day conference was to begin tomorrow in Beijing, but speakers were told to "assume that it's been canceled," pending official notice, said Bruce Gilley, the author of several books on Chinese politics who was invited to speak at the conference.

It would be the second time in six months that China has called off an international conference on a sensitive issue, after scrapping a meeting last December on labor standards.

Topics for this week's conference included elections, labor rights and government reform. It was organized by the China University of Political Science and Law and New York City's Fordham University.

"This was a conference that really highlights the growing amount of interest in Chinese universities about serious democratization," Gilley said in a telephone interview from the US.

However, he said, "Like typical dictators, their [the government's] only reaction is to crush and repress it instead of accommodating it."

A woman who answered the phone at the law school of the China University of Political Science and Law said she had heard the conference was canceled but didn't know why.

At least 30 scholars from the US and China were to speak at the conference.

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